Last week, we ruminated over 18 Cool Things to Do in London. In keeping with the English theme, this week Alyssa James of Alyssa Writes gives us some options for London day trips – getting out of the city and seeing the surrounding countryside. Alyssa has lived in Canada, Martinique and France and has travelled Europe and the Caribbean. Besides travelling, Alyssa enjoys cooking, reading and keeping up with a ridiculous number of television shows. She is in the throes of organizing her next big move to London, UK. Read about it on her website or follow her on Twitter.
There is enough going on in London to keep anyone occupied for a lifetime, let alone someone visiting for a couple weeks. However, if you’re looking for a change of pace and can only spare a day or two, here are some day trips you can make to see more of England.
This city an hour north of London offers an interesting juxtaposition: a bustling and youthful university town contrasted with the romanticism of remarkable architecture and historic buildings. The easiest way to discover Cambridge is on foot as many areas are pedestrianized. If you’re feeling adventurous though, rent a bike and join the locals in dodging the meandering tourists.
Check out the General Market in the central Market Square—vendors set up selling fresh bread, vintage clothing, books and even old coins. From there, explore the University of Cambridge campus and make your way to King’s College Chapel. This iconic chapel is considered one of Europe’s greatest Gothic buildings. You can explore the chapel and learn a little more about its history in the chapel exhibit. Be sure to look up; the fan-vaulted ceiling is unparalleled.
A visit to Cambridge wouldn’t be complete until you’ve gone punting on the River Cam. What is punting? A guaranteed disaster on your first try! It involves pushing the punt (a type of boat with a platform on one end, called the ‘till’) with a 5m long pole. While standing on the till in the back, the pole is placed straight into the water and is pushed into the riverbed to propel forward. It’s actually quite easy once you get the hang of it and really a lot of fun! You can also pay for a guide who will do all the heavy lifting and help you discover the Bridge of Sighs, the different Cambridge colleges and the replica of the bridge over the Cam that gave this lovely city its name.
Getting there: Don’t drive into the centre of Cambridge—it’s expensive to park and has a complicated one-way system. You can take the M11 north from London, stop at a Park-and-Ride and take a shuttle bus. There are also trains from London’s King’s Cross Station and Liverpool Street Station. Keep in mind that during May and June many college buildings will be closed to visitors for examinations.
P.S. If you go punting in Oxford, tradition is to punt from inside the boat and propel with the till facing forward!
For those who love antiquing, this is the place for you! About an hour by train south of London are two quaint villages called Horsham and Ardingly. Horsham is a market town immortalized in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Five Orange Pips. Horsham is based around Carfax—the pedestrianized square in the centre with cafés, restaurants and live music on stage in the summer. The Horsham museum also holds galleries with a variety of items, including early editions of pieces by Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley.
Just next to Horsham is Ardingly, a town known for the South of England showground that hosts the Ardingly Agricultural show as well as the International Antiques and Collectors show.
If you’re planning on spending a couple days away, staying in Ardingly is perfect. One hour away from London and thirty minutes from Brighton, you can spend a day at the beach or in the city and come back to the countryside in no time at all. The Ardingly Inn just off the high street has a relaxed atmosphere and really friendly service. Not just a venue serving traditional pub fare, they also have seven letting beds if you need a place to stay.
To get out in nature, take a walk or some watersport lessons at the Ardingly Reservoir. This reservoir feeds the River Ouse and is surrounded by rolling green hills and fields of buttercups. Learn about the plants, trees and birds in the area on discovery walks. The Ardingly Activity centre provides sailing and windsurfing lessons, fishing, and canoeing for the adventurous visitors. Be sure to book in advance via their website.
Getting there: To drive, it is near the M25 & M23. Trains to Horsham are from London Victoria—be aware that on weekends you will have to transfer to a bus. For Ardingly, take the train from London Victoria to Hayward’s Heath.
Site of the Windsor Castle, home to the Royal Family for more than 900 years, this town is a great place for a day trip. Georgian architecture and lavish furnishing from the Royal Collection awaits you in this Victorian town. You can take the Open Bus tour to explore, but a really unique way to see the area is by boat that departs from Windsor Promenade. See the Royal Windsor Information Centre on Thames Street for more information.
Go see the Windsor Changing of the Guard; there is more pomp and circumstance than the ceremony at Buckingham Palace, especially if the Queen is home. At 11AM, a full regimental band marches through town as the Bearskin-wearing guards change place. On the castle grounds is St. George’s Chapel, a quintessential chapel in the Medieval Perpendicular style in which ten sovereigns are buried.
Stop for afternoon tea at The Crooked House of Windsor, a building constructed in 1592 that now serves as a restaurant. This English tea room has a variety of items from roast duck salad to steak and kidney pie. Of course, this place is here for the tradition of taking high tea: tea sandwiches, fruit, scones with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam, all served on a Victorian style platter. Your choice of loose-leaf tea or speciality coffee served in a cafetière is included—the Indian Mysore coffee is divine!
Getting there: Trains make the 35 minute trip from Paddington station in London to Windsor & Eton Central. By car, Windsor is 25 miles away along the M4 motorway.
Eastbourne and Beachy Head
If coastal scenery is your thing, southern England has it in spades, but perhaps none more spectacular than at Beachy Head, a 2 hour drive from London in East Sussex. This stretch of coastline is home to the highest chalk sea-cliffs in all of Britain, rising to more than 160 metres above sea level- I promise you will gasp when you first see them!
The cliffs extend for miles along the coast and make for a fantastic walk if the weather is good. You can stop at the Belle Tout lighthouse for a breather. Built in 1829, the lighthouse was a much needed addition to the notoriously treacherous stretch of coast which had previously seen dozens of shipwrecks. Perched on top of the cliff, and having to be moved away from the cliff in 1999 due to ongoing erosion of the cliff face, it’s hard to image a more breathtaking lighthouse view than this one. After the walk, stop in at the vintage Beachy Head pub which oozes character and does a good lunch to go with your ale.
The nearby town of Eastbourne is a classic British seaside resort, complete with charming ocean pier with food, tea houses and amusements. In summer, the beach is a magnet for sun-lovers from all over England, while the beachfront promenade has a jumble of beautiful Victorian buildings and hotels. There are also several castles in the vicinity.
Getting there: By car, Eastbourne is a 65 mile 2 hour drive on the A23 and A22 almost directly south from London. Frequent direct trains run from London Victoria, Gatwick or Ashford stations.
Have you been to London or southern England? Any tips for places that make good day trips from London?